The Internet has made the creating, consuming, sharing and searching for information easier than ever before, but it has not done so without consequences. The openness of the Internet has lots of debatable downsides, ranging from cyber terrorism to illegalized peer networks, but although many of those regularly gain flashy headlines, I’m writing about an issue that is often ignored: the quality and the worthiness of the data itself.
Problem #1: The (Lack of) Quality
The groundwork for this blog text can be set with a simple equation, courtesy of yours truly:
The overall quality of information is inversely proportional to the quantity of the said information.
I believe this modern paradigm will only continue to grow worse, as by the year 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of information it outputs today. This number will likely be much higher though, if Internet of Things truly gets going. I mean, this thing isn’t exactly rocket-biology: every one of us gets frustrated every now and then when we don’t find the information we are searching for. The Internet has actually become so close to us that we can get emotional when this trusted partner does not act the way we’re used to or want it to. That doesn’t sound like healthy relationship, now does it?
The on-going quality degeneration of online information is getting more frustrating by the day. So called news sites are filled with gossip, inappropriate or downright shady adds keep infesting most if not all of our favorite sites, and your online experience is constantly being “tailored” in the name of more relevant content (which either goes miserably wrong or is somewhat achieved by sacrificing privacy for corporate profits).
Problem #2: Source Reputation & Data Integrity
The next issue is very closely related (or someone would say intertwined) with number 1: the reliability of the data. Most people have some sort of general knowledge that practically anyone can post anything online (and claiming to be someone else while doing it), so most folks think that e.g. reading news only from “trusted sources” brings them reliable information. In my opinion, most of us have way too much trust on the Internet. Digitization of all available information still doesn’t make it immune to regulation, reshaping or even censorship – in fact, I’d argue it makes all of these things even worse. Hardly ever we get to see any piece of information directly from it’s actual source. Usually it’s just force-fed to us via an algorithm, published with buzzfeedy headline, “reputation” based on nothing more than the .jpg logo of a website. Information integrity is a joke these days.
This spring we learned by an information leak that EU will spend £2 million to monitor press and public opinions online. Program’s goal is to silence eurosceptics and promote the image of unified EU. This type of comprehensive media shaping is something that could be classified as hasbara. Term originally meant Israel’s public diplomacy (“it seeks to work with and convince the public, particularly decision makers, shapers of public opinion and important sectors of society”), but it’s easier to think of it as the art of shaping the public opinion. Very, very fascinating topic for research!
What I am trying to say here, is that most of the information – if not all – what most people consume online is made by someone, for someone’s benefit, and to win you over. That is, to deepen your trust and relationship with the publisher or the creator of the information.
There are two main takeaways from this text: 1. keep your common sense with you when browsing, and 2. it is always healthy to question more. And remember, the digital information about you is much greater than the information you create yourself.
No matter what terribly tragedy governments use to trample upon your freedom of speech, don’t buy it. If we ever lose the freedom to express ourselves (online or offline), humanity is doomed. Simple as that.